What Erdogan, Davutoglu want to divert attention from

How Turkey’s ever-baffling voters will act a month from now is, still, a grand puzzle. There is no doubt June 7 will be a ‘national day of reckoning’ for the country. It is a referendum about the ‘Erdogan’s Way’, as much as a collective decision for the path to be chosen by roughly 56 million voters: ‘enough’ or ‘go ahead’ for the normalization ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what Latin America called ‘autogolpe’ (a power grab).

How much of a puzzle we stand before was verified the other evening when we — a group of select journalists — were presented an important survey conducted by Koc University, Ohio State University and the Open Society Foundation. The academic team was led by the respected Prof Ali carkoilu, and supported by another scholar of high esteem, Prof. Ersin Kalaycioilu.

The core study aimed not to be just another guessing game of whether the party would come out winning or losing. Rather, as it was titled, it offered us comparative data on the social dynamics ahead of the June 7 elections. Conducted with around 2,000 people in 49 provinces, its value lay in the fact that similar studies were done before previous elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011.

The reading of the study makes it very clear, at the outset, that the positive perceptions for democratic transformation and hopes had, in many aspects, reached a peak in around 2011 — and this one followed the referendum on key constitutional amendments — at which point trends show a downward fall.

“Those who are dismayed about the way democracy functions are 45 percent,” carkoilu told us. ‘This indicator, which we have monitored since 2006, was as low as 33 percent in 2011. From then on, a steady negative rise has been noted.”

The key element for the color of the vote remains a given: the economy. But, perhaps more crucially than ever before, the perceptions are about its downhill trends as well.

“Voter observations show negative signs” said carkoilu. “Those voters who thought the economy was going badly stood at 24 percent in 2013. This went up to 30 percent in 2014 and now it is as high as 48 percent.”

One focus of voter anxiety is unemployment (39 percent). Other indicators in the study also show a negative perception over the decreasing figures of growth. The survey tells us that the public finds the AKP least successful in three areas: unemployment, its Syria policy and the fight against corruption. What it finds most successful is the headscarf issue, healthcare and urban transformation.

The survey is also a wake-up call for the public, which somehow keeps the new Constitution on the agenda. As many as 60 percent think Turkey needs and, perhaps more remarkably, around 66 percent believe it should be adopted by a cross-party consensus.

Arguably, this finding overlaps with the other key finding that the years 2010-11 were the top of the “bell curve.” Let’s also add the statistic that shows those who believe “the state does not respect human rights” have risen from 35 percent in 2007, to 45 percent now.

Polarization stands out as a clear fact in the study. The most visible part of which is seen in the answers to the question of whether or not one will support a political model based on an annulled Parliament, no elections and a powerful leader. Whereas ‘yes’ has risen from 14 percent in 2007 to 25 percent now, ‘no’ has fallen from 83 percent to 65 percent — raising doubts that the resistance to a systemic shift is “bending.”

Also, regarding the safety of the elections, polarization is a fact. While 78 percent of those who support the AKP believe that that vote counting will be done correctly, only 23 percent of those supporting the opposition parties agree. Overall, mistrust over the election being fair seems to have dramatically risen from 28 percent of the public in 2007 to 43 percent now. Does this study help to solve the grand puzzle of how the voters will choose? It is clear that the visible discontent with the economy will be reflected in the ballot boxes (a dramatic hike from 30 percent to 48 percent in a year), as the continuing feeling of polarization fails to paint a rosy picture about the stitches holding Turkish society together.